The state of Ohio sued four opioid distributors Monday, accusing them of engaging in unsafe practices that brought a glut of powerful painkillers into a state that is now struggling with an opioid epidemic.
The lawsuit filed in Madison County Common Pleas Court claims drug distributors ignored a responsibility to provide effective controls against opioid diversion. The distributors knew the number of painkillers being brought into Ohio far exceeded the number needed for legitimate medical purposes — an indication some of the drugs were being used improperly, the lawsuit says.
“[The distributors] knew the amount of opioids allowed to flow into Ohio far exceeded what could be consumed for medically-necessary purposes, but they did nothing to stop it,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday in a news release. “And much like the drug manufacturers who continue to fail to do the right thing, these distributors are doing precious little to take responsibility for their actions and help pay for the damage they have caused.”
DeWine announced the lawsuit nine months after the state filed another suit that accuses five pharmaceutical manufacturers of fraudulently marketing opioids. The earlier lawsuit is among hundreds of similar suits that states, counties and cities across the U.S. have filed against manufacturers.
The 117-page lawsuit filed Monday names McKesson Corp., Cardinal Health and its subsidiaries, AmerisourceBergen Drug Corp. and Miami-Luken as defendants.
Prescription drug manufacturers package drugs and send them to distributors. The distributors provide the drugs to hospitals, pharmacies and other healthcare providers who supply patients.
Federal and state laws say distributors must take steps to prevent potential abuses of the system — also known as drug diversion. Diversion could occur through lost or stolen drugs, or fraudulent prescriptions, the lawsuit says.
Distributors were negligent and allowed an abundance of drugs to flow into Ohio, despite evidence suggesting drug diversion, the lawsuit says. Statistics show that in 2016 the average Ohio county received 65 painkillers per person, with several counties receiving more than 100 pills “for every man, woman, and child,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and compensatory damages for the costs Ohio has incurred to address the opioid epidemic. Those costs include spending for healthcare, criminal justice, social services and education, the lawsuit says.
The state of Ohio’s prior lawsuit targeted drug manufacturers but did not name distributors as defendants.
Ohio counties and cities have also filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers. Cuyahoga County officials previously filed a lawsuit that accuses drug companies of intentionally misleading the public about the dangers of opioids to sell more painkillers. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Lake and Lorain Counties.
Officials nationwide have said prescription drug abuse is inextricably linked to heroin and fentanyl abuse, and the opioid epidemic that claimed thousands of lives last year in Ohio. In 2016, more than 4,050 people died of unintentional drug overdoses across the state, with many of those being caused by opioids.
In 2016, the state led the nation in opioid overdose deaths, with one of every 11 deaths nationwide happening in Ohio, the lawsuit says.